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100 years of Osmania University, the hub of Telangana agitation

LiveMint logoLiveMint 26-04-2017 Yunus Y. Lasania

Hyderabad: M. Sridhara Reddy, now 77, was a Ph.D scholar with the political science department at the Osmania University (OU) in 1969, when his life changed completely. While researching on students movements as part of his PhD, he turned into a student leader and joined the students’ agitation demanding Telangana’s separation from the state of Andhra Pradesh then. The agitation for separate statehood lasted from January to November 1969, and the university lost an academic year as a result.

“That was the first time OU took centre-stage in Telangana’s history. The first Students Action Committee was formed in my hostel room,” recalled Reddy, adding that protests spread across nine other districts in Telangana that year.

On 26 April, OU enters its 100th year, with President Pranab Mukherjee arriving on Wednesday to attend the university’s centenary celebrations, which will continue till 28 April.

The university, set up by Mir Osman Ali Khan, the seventh Nizam of the erstwhile state of Hyderabad, in 1918, was the first to be established in the princely state, and the seventh in India. The medium of instruction at the time was Urdu, but was changed to English after Independence.

Situated in Amberpet area, OU lies in the heart of Hyderabad and has a sprawling campus of over 1,300 acres. It has 53 departments, five constituent colleges and 1,000 affiliated colleges.

The demand for a separate state spread to the university after protests were held by locals in 1968 at Khammam district against the violation of mulkhi (local) rules. “As per the rules, one had to live in the Telangana region for 12 years to be eligible for government jobs,” he said.

By 1969, the demand for separate Telangana crystallised among students of OU.

Though the issue remained alive in the intervening years, after 1969, large-scale student protests broke out in 2009 next. Since 2009, the university witnessed sporadic incidents of violent protests until Telangana finally became a reality in June 2014.

OU become the de-facto place where the idea of a separate state kept simmering in the four decades between 1969 and 2009 through meetings and representations.

“The idea of Telangana was kept alive mainly through public meetings which were conducted regularly by different generations of students or student groups. I conducted meetings and attended others during my masters in philosophy between 1986 and 1988,” said Mallesh Sankasala, vice-chairman of the Telangana State Council for Higher Education (TSCHE), and former principal of the Arts College, OU.

The historic Arts College building is the face of the university. Established in 1939, room no. 57 inside the building will go down in history as the venue for political discussions and meetings. The tradition continues even today.

M. Kodandaram, chairman, Telangana Joint Action Committee, and former professor at OU, who played a major role in the pro-Telanagana agitation after the 2009 student protests, said several meetings were held on the campus in the 1980s.

“Among political heavyweights who attended the student meetings then were George Fernandes and socialist leader Surendra Mohan,” said Kodandaram, who studied in OU from 1975 to 1977.

“The period after the 1969 agitation was when no one would talk of Telangana outside OU,” said Leo Augustine, civil rights lawyer, who studied in the university in the 1980s. Augustine, who was the president of the OU Law College’s student union in 1982, said that student union elections were banned on campus in 1986 itself, owing to the surcharged political atmosphere.

Being in the OU students’ union was no joke. “Even the chief minister would meet its members without any delay, if called. It was that powerful and credible,” said Augustine.

His son, M. Krishank Manne, went on to become a part of the Osmania University Joint Action Committee (OUJAC), whose members led the protests in the campus during the 2009 agitations. Krishank is currently a member of the Indian National Congress.

Even though Telangana has became a reality, OU continues to be a hub for student protests over various issues. But the students have made an exception for the centenary celebrations: About a week ago, student groups assured the OU authorities that there would be no protests during the celebrations.

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